Employers who wish to sponsor H-1B workers for Fiscal Year 2015 can begin filing petitions on April 1, 2014 for a start date of October 1, 2014.  The H-1B visa is used by businesses to employ foreign nationals to work in a specialty occupation requiring theoretical or technical expertise.  For FY 2015, cases will be considered accepted on the date that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes possession of the petition, not on the date it was postmarked.  We therefore encourage all employers to mail H-1B petitions on Monday, March 31, 2014. 

Annual Limit

There is an annual limit of 65,000 visas available for H-1B petitions, with an additional 20,000 reserved for individuals who have earned a U.S. master’s degree or higher.  In 2013, USCIS received approximately 124,000 and closed the cap after the first 5 business days, announcing that it had received a sufficient number of H-1B petitions.  A greater number of petitions are expected to be filed this year.  USCIS will again accept applications for the first five business days until April 7, 2014. 

Lottery System

If the number of standard and advanced-degree petitions exceeds the cap during the first five business days of the filing season, as it did last year, USCIS will conduct a computerized lottery to select the cases for processing.  The first stage of the lottery focuses on selecting the advanced-degree petitions to fill the cap exemption of 20,000.  Thereafter, a second lottery is conducted with the remaining petitions to meet the standard quota of 65,000.  

Key Filing Deadlines

In order to file an H-1B, an employer must have a certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor (DOL).  Currently, the DOL is taking 7 days to certify an LCA, however, regulations permit the DOL to take up to 7 business days, i.e. 10 days.  In addition, if your company has not filed an LCA in the last few years, there is a chance that we will need to register your company with the DOL first.  This process takes approximately 3 business days.   

Also, if your prospective H-1B employee does not have a U.S. degree, a degree equivalency must be conducted by an accredited credential evaluation company.   Although most companies offer 24-hour turnaround at this time of year, due to high demand levels, this cannot be guaranteed close to the H-1B Cap filing deadline.  

Moreover, additional delays may be caused by setbacks out of your company’s control, as was the case in previous years when the online LCA’s system functioned extremely slowly and shut down towards the end of March due to the high usage rate.  Early filings therefore are imperative to avoid any technical delays.  

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Act now!  We encourage all employers to file H-1B petitions with USCIS as early as possible within the filing period.  Littler will start mailing H-1B petitions on Monday, March 31, 2014, for delivery to USCIS on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, the very first day USCIS starts accepting filings.  In a perfect scenario where all documentation is in place and the government’s systems function properly, it generally takes approximately 10 days to prepare an H-1B so that it is ready for filing with USCIS.  Accordingly, employers should initiate H-1B cases immediately.